‘June Would Be Clammy, January Crisp’ by Boris Slutsky

June would be clammy, January crisp;

and concrete solid, sand unstable.

For there was order. Real order.

 

People got up and went to work.

And then they watched The Happy Fellas

at cinemas. For there was order.

 

In pedigrees and in parades,

political police, and apparatus,

even in parodies – there was order.

 

People made fun, and were afraid,

only of those they were supposed to,

for there was order, real order.

 

An order of the bent and bashed.

In hours, in minutes, and in seconds,

in years as well, there was real order.

 

It would have gone on without end,

but then a certain person fell,

and all this order went to hell.

 

by Борис Абрамович Слуцкий (Boris Abramovich Slutsky)

(early 1960s)

translated by G. S. Smith


Fun facts: Obviously the ‘certain person’ was Stalin and his era of terror where indeed there was order, compared to the era of thaw, but I was surprised to find actually ‘The Happy Fellas’ actually does exist! It is the 1934 film Веселые ребята a.k.a. ‘Jolly Fellows’ or ‘Funny Boys’ depending on how you choose to translate the title.

Jolly Fellows (Russian: Весёлые ребята Vesyolye rebyata), also translated as Happy-Go-Lucky Guys, Moscow Laughs and Jazz Comedy, is a 1934 Soviet musical film, directed by Grigori Aleksandrov and starring his wife Lyubov Orlova, a gifted singer and the first recognized star of Soviet cinema.

The script was written by Aleksandrov, Vladimir Mass, and Nikolai Erdman (whose father briefly appears on screen as a German music teacher). It features several songs which instantly became classics across the Soviet Union. The most famous song — “Kak mnogo devushek khoroshikh” (Such a lot of nice girls) — enjoyed international fame, covered as “Serdtse” (Heart) by Pyotr Leshchenko. Music was by Isaak Dunayevsky, the lyrics were written by the Soviet poet Vasily Lebedev-Kumach.

Both Orlova and her co-star, the jazz singer and comic actor Leonid Utyosov, were propelled to stardom after this movie.

Slutsky, of course, is mocking how the film is sacchrine, state sanctioned, sanitised humorous entertainment with no challenging elements or anything that might make the audience think about their social hardships they are living through during Stalin’s era of non-conforming people being made to ‘disappear’ for speaking or acting out, gulags and starvation. Everything is fine citizen, watch the film and feel good about life… everything is in order. No one deviates, no one transgresses, no one thinks or acts differently. There is order – or else!

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Ears In The Turrets Hear by Dylan Thomas

Ears in the turrets hear

Hands grumble on the door,

Eyes in the gables see

The fingers at the locks.

Shall I unbolt or stay

Alone till the day I die

Unseen by stranger-eyes

In this white house?

Hands, hold you poison or grapes?

 

Beyond this island bound

By a thin sea of flesh

And a bone coast,

The land lies out of sound

And the hills out of mind.

No birds or flying fish

Disturbs this island’s rest.

 

Ears in this island hear

The wind pass like a fire,

Eyes in this island see

Ships anchor off the bay.

Shall I run to the ships

With the wind in my hair,

Or stay till the day I die

And welcome no sailor?

Ships, hold you poison or grapes?

 

Hands grumble on the door,

Ships anchor off the bay,

Rain beats the sand and slates.

Shall I let in the stranger,

Shall I welcome the sailor,

Or stay till the day I die?

 

Hands of the stranger and holds of the ships,

Hold you poison or grapes?

 

by Dylan Thomas


The poem read by the Welsh actor Philip Maddoc:

‘Let Any, Who Will, Still Bask In The South…’ by Anna Akhmatova

“You are with me once more, Autumn my friend!”

Annensky

 

Let any, who will, still bask in the south

On the paradisal sand,

It’s northerly here – and this year of the north

Autumn will be my friend.

 

I’ll live, in a dream, in a stranger’s house

Where perhaps I have died,

Where the mirrors keep something mysterious

To themselves in the evening light.

 

I shall walk between black fir-trees,

Where the wind is at one with the heath,

And a dull splinter of the moon will glint

Like an old knife with jagged teeth.

 

Our last, blissful unmeeting I shall bring

To sustain me here –

The cold, pure, light flame of conquering

What I was destined for.

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1957)

from Седьмая книга (The Seventh Book)

translation by D. M. Thomas

Searching The Doll by Mike Jenkins

Slowly pacing the beach,

in age now not in sleep,

it’s a cemetery

but I’ve come to dig.

Gulls wailing what’s inside.

 

I’m alone again at night

in a waking trance

searching for that doll

I dropped, the blood-smirch

on its white wedding-dress.

 

My prints always lead back

to the cellar of that house.

A nine-month sentence stretched

to life on its camp-bed:

the memory condemned.

 

I chatted so readily then

hadn’t learnt suspicion’s martial art,

his affection the breadth of air

and hands soft as powdery sand.

Soon became my jailer, my interrogator.

 

Buried me under his sweaty bulk

so my frenzied fingers tried

to take flight and reach up

to the single slit of light.

Dead birds washed up with the flotsam.

 

by Mike Jenkins

from This House, My Ghetto

Dream by Mikhail Lermontov

At blazing noon, in Dagestan’s deep valley,

a bullet in my chest, dead still I lay,

as steam yet rose above my wound, I tallied

each drop of blood, as life now now seeped away.

 

Alone I lay within a sandy hollow,

as jagged ledges teemed there, rising steep,

with sun-scorched peaks above me, burning yellow,

I too was scorched, yet slept a lifeless sleep.

 

I dreamt of lights upon an evening hour,

a lavish feast held in my native land,

and fair young maidens garlanded with flowers:

their talk of me was merry and off-hand.

 

But one of them, not joining their free chatter,

sat timidly apart, bemused, alone,

sunk in a dream, her soul by sadness shattered:

God only knows what made her so forlorn;

 

she dreamed of sand in Dagestan’s deep valley,

a gorge in which a man she knew lay dead,

black steam still rose above the wound’s scorched hollow,

as blood streamed down and cooled like molten lead.

 

by Михаил Юрьевич Лермонтов (Mikhail Yuryevich Lermontov)

(1841)

translated by Alexander Levitsky